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Supermarkets act on plastic bags

Plastic bag use still rising in some stores

Supermarket carrier bags

We’ve found the supermarkets that are leading the way when it comes to cutting down on plastic bags.

Some 13 billion plastic bags  are used by shoppers each year, so Which? asked the major supermarkets what they were doing to reduce usage.

The big stores have signed up to a government initiative to reduce the environmental impact of carrier bags by a quarter by the end of 2008 – the equivalent of taking 18,000 cars off the road in terms of emissions.

In our results, the most successful stores at cutting down on their carrier bags are Tesco (down 15% in 12 months), Waitrose (down 14%) and Somerfield (down 10%).

At the same time, however, some stores are seeing an increase in plastic bag use – Aldi (up 16%) and Marks and Spencer (up 10% to 15%).

Recycled bags

Most stores now produce recyclable carrier bags and usually provide recycling bins for shoppers, although Co-op and Lidl said they don’t provide bins and Marks and Spencer does this only in Northern Ireland.

Carrier bags are still made mainly from virgin rather than recycled plastic – Sainsbury’s bags contain the most recycled material, at 33%, but Lidl plans to introduce a 100% recycled bag soon.

There are also differences in attitude to using biodegradeable bags. Only Co-op, Somerfield and Tesco have carrier bags that will break down totally within three years, leaving no harmful residue.

But Asda and Waitrose said that they had concerns about biodegradeable bags – they’re still sent to landfill sites and, unlike ordinary carrier bags, they emit the harmful greenhouse gas methane.

Supermarket performance on bags
Supermarket Carrier bag use in 2006 Change between 2005 and 2006 Recycled material in carrier bags Biodegradeable carrier bags Cost of recyclable bag for life
42m 16% 0% No Freec
2.2bn no change 10% No From 5p
700m -8% 0% Yes From 10p
Lidl no answer ‘slight decrease’ 0% (100% later this year) No Freec
440m no answer 20% No 10p
Morrisons no answer 10 to 15% 12.5% (target 25% for end 2008) No 10p
1.5bn -6.5% 33% No From 10p
800m -10% 0% Yes 10p
Tesco 4bna -15%b no answer Yes From 10p
295m -14% 30% No 10p
Table notes
No answer – figures calculated from tesco website
August 2006 to August 2007
99p for non-recyclable bag
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